In prowling around for photos of a beloved mariachi educator I stumbled on a clip from eight years ago that now seems like a time capsule.
The video was to accompany a March 13, 2009 Tucson Citizen article I wrote about Davis Bilingual Elementary School mariachi program creator Alfredo Valenzuela.
In May, 2008, “Mr. V” became “Dr. V” as the University of Arizona conferred an honorary doctorate upon him for his pioneering work in bilingual and mariachi education. But he was already a beloved figure in the community by that point. Singer Linda Ronstadt is among those who commented on the importance of Dr. V’s work to the community in the article.
The timing of the piece was poignant for me personally. Just two days after its publication, Gannett Newspapers was supposed to close the Tucson Citizen for good, laying me off along with the rest of the staff, save for a couple of folks to wind things down. I wrote the piece feeling that it would be the last word I would have on Tucson’s mariachi scene. As fate had it, it took Gannett another two months to close the shop, so I got to cover another mariachi conference and slip in a couple of other smaller pieces of coverage.
The clip had survived because it was one of a handful of copies of things I was proud of that I saved for myself as examples of my work from my time as the Citizen’s Multimedia Manager. I’d intended to put into my portfolio, in hopes of finding work beyond the Citizen. The rest of the Citizen’s videos were accidentally wiped out when an unprotected hard drive experienced a power surge, after they became the property of the Arizona Daily Star upon the closing of the Tucson Citizen. I’ll admit, I had completely forgotten I had this one, and it was a fluke that the hard drive that contained my old clips was on when I did that photo search.
People have talked for years about how Dr. V’s Mariachi Las Aguilitas de Davis was the mouth of the pipeline to the great mariachis in Tucson. Eight years later, this video shows it. There among the kids he’s rehearsing are recent high school graduates and current members of Mariachi Aztlán de Pueblo High School, as well as other Tucson groups. It takes a minute to see in these little kids the faces of the now young men and women that they have become. But clearly there already is the musical and cultural foundation that would put them on the path to achievement in school, music and life.
The video also shows Dr. V for the wonderful, humble educator and public servant that he was. And you still find him hanging around Davis and wherever the Aguilitas play, assisting his son, Jaime, who succeeded Dr. V as director of the group. The passion, high standards and real-world results continue.
The video is from summer of 2008 and spring of 2009. Already the idea for The Mariachi Miracle was cooking in my head, though with no title and considerably less understanding of how complicated and powerful that movement was. But even then I could see that Dr. V’s work was foundational to an educational movement that would sweep the country.